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ED 414 131 

RC 021 277 






Fine, L-Jay 

A Hero's Journey: A Freshman Orientation Challenge Course 


9p . ; In: Deeply Rooted, Branching Out, 1972-1997. Annual AEE 
International Conference Proceedings; see RC 021 269. 

Reports - Descriptive (141) -- Speeches/Meeting Papers (150) 

MF01/PC01 Plus Postage. 

* Adventure Education; ^College Freshmen; Courses ; 
^Experiential Learning; Higher Education; ^Mythology; 

* Student Development 

Archetypes; ^California State University Fresno,* Freshman 
Orientation; Rites of Passage; *Rope Courses 


At California State University, Fresno, all incoming 
students take a full-semester, three-unit course that includes topics on 
academic preparation but also focuses on issues and topics commonly 
associated with experiential and adventure education. These areas include 
communication, listening, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. Recognizing 
the applicability of experiential education to reinforce such skills, a pilot 
program was undertaken using the campus ropes course. Since college 
represents an ideal rite of passage for many students, it seemed appropriate 
to borrow from Joseph Campbell's monomyth, a hero's journey. The program 
guides students through the ropes course along the steps described in 
Campbell's "Hero with a Thousand Faces." Myths are an effective means of 
facilitating educational experiences because they are remembered easily, are 
open to interpretation, and engage participants in the same manner as an 
initiative activity might. The stages of the hero's journey are the 
separation or departure, the trials and victories of initiation, and the 
return and reintegration with society. These stages are reconceptualized in 
terms of the college student's experience. Program activities related to each 
of the stages are described, and 13 questions for reflection are listed. (SV) 


* Reproductions supplied by EDRS are the best that can be made * 

* from the original document. * 





A Hero’s Journey: A Freshman Orientation 
Challenge Course Program 

L-Jay Fine, Ph.D. 

Recreation Administration & Leisure Studies Program 
California State University, Fresno 
Fresno, CA 93740-0103 USA 
Phone: (209) 278-2629 
Fax: (209) 278-5267 
_ Email: 


In conjunction with the university orientation class at California State University, 
Fresno, a ropes course program is being developed using experiential education to re- 
inforce the skills taught in the classroom. Using the framework of Joseph Campbell’s 
monomyth, a hero’s journey, the components of this program are designed to foster 
skills for a successful academic experience while also demonstrating the powerful 
experience college offers in providing a rite of passage — an opportunity to “cross the 

At Fresno State University, a full-semester, three-unit course is of- 
fered to all incoming students. The course, framed by the text Cornerstone by 
Montgomery, Moody, and Sherfield (1997), includes topics on academic prepa- 
ration but also focuses on issues and topics commonly associated with adven- 
ture education, such as communication, listening, community/teamwork, and 
problem-solving skills. Recognizing the applicability of experiential education 
to reinforce these skills, a pilot program was undertaken to use the campus 
ropes course. Since college represents an ideal rite of passage for many stu- 
dents, it seemed appropriate to borrow from Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, a 
hero’s journey. Using this framework, a program was developed to guide stu- 
dents through the ropes course along the steps described in Campbell’s Hero 




With a Thousand Faces (1968). 



B. Baker 


OERl position or policy 




1997 AEE International Conference Proceedings 

Importance of Myth 

Some will have difficulty using myth to facilitate educational experi- 
ences. The power of myth can lead to frustration. Stories are inherently nebu- 
lous and require thought and imagination to receive their value and meaning. 
The message may be illusive to younger participants or, perhaps, older ones 
who have locked out their imagination. However, since personal change re- 
quires imagination, it is well worth the effort in opening a person’s head and 
heart to these stories. 

One reason myths are effective is that people remember stories more 
than facts and, like metaphors, stories are experiential. They engage the par- 
ticipant in the same manner an initiative activity might. Stories are open to 
interpretation; they are less directive. They allow the participant to take own- 
ership in their meaning. 

The Hero 

The monomyth of a hero’s journey is derived from the least common 
denominators of traditional myths and stories; in Jungian terms, the 
monomyth is an archetype. This archetype, in turn, presents a pattern for the 
ideal hero. Traditional views of a hero conjure up images of rugged individual- 
ism: Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and Rambo. These typically male charac- 
ters go it alone, lick their wounds, and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. 
They are resourceful but isolated, perhaps lonely figures. This hero may be 
seen as a warrior, savior, scientist, and technologist — each a solitary figure 
tackling life’s challenges alone. Although characteristically American, this 
persona can be found defining a hero throughout the ages — Hercules, King 
Arthur, and Hamlet. Indeed, Joseph Campbell describes the Knights of the 
Round Table setting out for the grail as: “Each man went into the woods in 




A Hero’s Journey: A Freshman Orientation Challenge Course Program 


the place where it was darkest and there was no path, for they thought it 
would be a shame to go in as a group” (Campbell, 1968). 

This notion of a hero is incomplete. The true hero according to this 
monomyth does not ride off into the sunset alone. The complete journey of the 
hero brings the individual back into the community. Indeed, today s model for 
a hero would be one who finds comfort and growth in society, family, and 
friends. The hero metaphor, or monomyth, engenders a powerful symbolic 
meaning for the journey that students or anyone in their late teens and early 
twenties undertakes. 

Stages of the Journey 

The hero myth is an experience conducted in the context of a symbolic 
journey. It engenders a rite of passage based on the universal monomyth of 
the hero’s journey. 

One component of the journey is ritual. In all societies, people embark 
on rituals to transform themselves, often to enter a new stage in life. The pur- 
pose and actual effects of these rituals are to conduct people across those dif- 
ficult thresholds of transformation that demand a change in the patterns, not 
only of conscious, but also of unconscious life. College is often the place where 
students begin their journey. Though teenagers may go through many rites of 
passage (e.g., driver’s license, jobs, dating, etc.), none follow the stages of the 
hero’s journey more closely than college. Campbell noted three phases, the 
separation or departure, trials and victories of initiation, and the return and re- 
integration with society. The adventure education component begins with stu- 
dents listening to a simple fairytale such as The Frog Prince. A discussion on 
the hero’s journey will ensue. Afterward the students are asked to identify he- 
roes in their life. Invariably these are family members who have overcome ob- 
stacles and been an inspiration (see attached form). 


1997 AEE International Conference Proceedings 

Separation & Departure 

The first stage to any adventure is the decision of whether to go. The 
metaphor of the “call to adventure” can be directly related to the student. Al- 
exander Astin’s research on college freshmen showed that students who lived 
on campus experienced more success with their college experience than those 
living at home (Astin, 1993). It appears that breaking away from the family 
provides an essential ingredient in seeking one’s own path. 

The challenge -by-choice principle is critical at this stage. The student 
must rely on his or her own volition in attempting adventure activities. The 
discussion will center on whether the student is willing to take this step in 
college. On the ropes course many initiatives or trust elements can be used as 
the taking-off point. 

Almost invariably the “call” is negative and initially refused. “I’m not 
going up there!” “I can’t get that close to people.” “I don’t trust them.” College 
freshman may pick “safe” majors and not test their abilities or, indeed, may 
not select any major. 

These are common reactions to the call. If the call is refused, you run the risk 
of life drying up. To paraphrase Steven Covey: “You may ascend the ladder of 
j success only to find it was up against the wrong wall” (Covey, 1989). Regrets 

are known to wreak severe psychological damage, more than suffering 

Whether the call was accepted or refused, the essential next phase 
recognizes the need for assistance. In mythology, a troll, magical crone, or 
amulet will appear. In life, this can be the insight that we have the power in- 
side us to overcome obstacles. “Remember, Luke, the force is with you.” On 
many of the initiatives and high elements, students are amazed that they 

could succeed at what seemed like an insurmountable task. Discussion can 



'a Hero’s Journey: A Freshman Orientation Challenge Course Program 


center on what it was that allowed you to succeed. During our program, we use 
the high “v” and giant ladder to illustrate this metaphorically and realisti- 
cally. It is important to show that we can succeed with resources within our- 
selves, but also college freshman need to learn to avail themselves of external 
resources. Specifically, the friends made in the classroom and the ropes course 
become integral to their success. 

The Crossing of the First Threshold 

The hero’s path is through a dark forest where no one has entered. 
Though risky, the perils are worse to return. “To venture causes anxiety, but 
not to venture is to lose oneself. And to venture in the highest sense is pre- 
cisely to become conscious of oneself,” wrote Soren Kierkegaard. 

The first challenge due to its novelty is often the most intimidating, 
for the student steps forward alone into the unknown. The worldwide myth of 
being swallowed by a serpent or whale is a powerful metaphor symbolizing 
death and rebirth. In mythology, the stories consistently illustrate that we 
cannot be bom until we have died. In psychological terms, we cannot change 
behaviors unless we shed our previous self. 

Trials and Victories of Initiation 

Initiation is a critical component of a journey. Unfortunately our secu- 
lar society fails to provide for rites of passage in any ritualistic manner. Typi- 
cally, first job, first kiss, or driver’s license; or on the other hand, gang 
initiation or fraternity hazing must suffice to help us with passage from teen 
to adult. At this level, the participant experiences trials and tribulations as- 
sociated with failures and successes. But most importantly she or he receives 
feedback from the group. 

Following soon after the victory is often a refusal to do more because 
consciously the student believes they must. This is a tough area to work on. 


1997 AEE International Conference Proceedings 



Their trepidation stems from the sense that the success was luck. This de- 
terministic outlook hinders progress. When students do progress, they face 
the full power of their higher self working together with their conscious mind 
to control destiny. 

Applications on the ropes course center on high elements. We ask that 
students going across the catwalk go back. This return trip forces them to re- 
alize success was not fleeting. 

The Return and Reintegration with Society 

The classic image of the hero riding off into the sunset provides a 
great Hollywood cliche. Unfortunately it also negates the most important 
phase of the journey: coming home. The purpose of the journey is the return to 
a transmuted form of life in the real world. When Odysseus returned from 
years away from home, he returned to chaos. Skills garnered during his tra- 
vails allowed him to bring order. 

Sometimes this return is refused for fear that the knowledge will be 
lost or the student may be in fear of the return and, thus, deny what she or he 
learned. We often hear from students how disillusioned they are with friends 
from high school who stayed home. Voluntarily or not, the student must re- 
turn and face the people in his or her life, people who have not been on the 
quest. Though this is a difficult area to delve into on the ropes course, it does 
provide important fodder for the closing discussion. 


To paraphrase Joseph Campbell, the student (hero) is now the mas- 
ter of two worlds and has the freedom to live. The student is now conceptual- 
ized as in control and free of fears and preconceived limitations. We know 
intuitively that the student experiences some important transition during the 
college years. Use of adventure education may facilitate this process in vari- 


A Hero’s Journey: A Freshman Orientation Challenge Course Program 


ous ways. The most cited studies on higher education are those from Alexan- 
der Astin’s work over the past thirty years. What Matters in College is a semi- 
nal text which delineates the important components of making a successful 
student. Traditional definitions of success such as retention, good grades, and 
other measures are expanded in his study to underline the experiences which 
promote talent development. What factors not only increase retention, but 
also promote success after college? Matters by which we usually evaluate our 
institutions, such as reputation and resources, turned out to have little sig- 
nificance in talent development. Findings pointed to engaged learning and 
peer groups as the two most important factors. Nothing could be more rele- 
vant to experiential education. One model for applying an experiential compo- 
nent may be the hero’s journey. 

(Exercise for beginning of the program) 

Your Hero's Path 

1. Name a hero in your life. 

2. What characterizes this person as a hero? 

3. What parts of your life mirror that of the hero’s journey? 

Phase 1. Separation or Departure 

4. Have you traveled for an extended period? Gone away to college? Moved 
to another country or state for employment? Or just picked up and left 
your hometown? 

5. Even if you stay in the physical setting in which you grew up, the hero’s 
journey can be an adventure on the psyche. Have you made sudden and 
dramatic career changes? Are you on a markedly different path than 
siblings? Were/are you a rebellious teen? 

6. What was the call to adventure? 

Did you heed all calls or refuse some? Any regrets? 



1997 AEE International Conference Proceedings 

Phase 2. The Road of Trials and the Victories of Initiation 

8. If you took the call, what challenges did you contend with? What gave 
you the strength and ability to handle these? 

9. What were the rites of passage or initiations in your life? 

10. What impact on your life did these trials have? 

11. From these changes, what do you want to hold on to? 

Phase 3. The Return and Reintegration with Society 

12. Did you willingly return to your home, community, or roots? Are you 
still there? 

13. If you returned, how were you welcomed? What does/did it feel like to be 


Astin, A. W. (1993). What matters in college ?: Four critical years revisited. San 
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Campbell, J. (1968). The hero with a thousand faces. Princeton, NJ: Princeton 
University Press. 

Covey, S. R. (1989). The seven habits of highly effective people. New York, NY: 
Simon & Schuster. 

Montgomery, R. J., Moody, P. G., & Sherfield, R. M. (1997). Cornerstone: Build- 
ing on your best. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. 



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